In a land that is marking 50 years of Independence from official colonial rule, it is possible to have known firsthand all the political parties that emerged since. In one lifetime, we have seen several of them disintegrate, watched them self-destruct, and the implosions have often been traumatic to the national psyche.
Governments too have been voted out of office not so much because other contenders have offered more attractive options for governance, but because they have often turned on themselves so viciously and revealingly, that the end is written on the wall long before general elections arrive to put all out of their misery.
It is not particularly unusual—the dialectics of change are ever at work— but it has been striking that in the course of our own history-making, we have more often than not descended into vulgarity and a frankly barbarous disregard for the concepts of civil society and development.
The death of Eric Williams thrust the hapless George Chambers into a position and an economy that could only have ended in tears.
The founding of the National Alliance for Reconstruction, bringing together groups that offered a promise of a new kind of inclusive governance, different from the PNM model, instilled the kind of breathless hope that Barack Obama did during his first election campaign in the US. Do you remember that at first (1981) it was the National Alliance with the ULF (Panday) Tapia (Best) DAC (Robinson) then the ONR (Hudson-Phillips) that swept the nation to walk away from the only party that had been in government since independence?
But 1986 became 1988 and in between the Government was having its business leaked left right and centre. Panday got the boot (along with Ramnath, Sudama and Humphrey), with Robinson saying, "…some people get sick and do all sorts of strange things, including throwing up on their colleagues."
And so, the Club for Love, Unity and Brotherhood was formed (Club 88), the precursor to the United National Congress. We've seen the UNC go through its own upheavals: its rise to government in 1995; Panday and Ramesh Maharaj falling out, and the consequent change in government in 2001 when President Robinson ended the 18-18 deadlock by granting Manning a second stab on "moral and spiritual grounds".
Remember the Ramjack couple who mounted their own assaults in the quest for leadership of the UNC? Remember the attacks on Hulsie Bhaggan? Remember the break-up between Rowley and Manning? Valley?
What had been the nature of the discourses? Not anything about stances on issues, but about personal lives, and nastiness was the most common factor.
Men—mostly men it has been —have savagely attacked each other, and as women entered the fray, they have been targets for additional dimensions of abuse. This unpleasant blueprint of our past in politics is now breeding a template for debased behaviour that is being boastfully upheld as the high standard for politics today.
Indeed, newspaper columnist, Suzanne Mills, chided the Congress of the People last Sunday with an astonishing disregard for principles and public life. "Respect and honour don't vote; they are lofty notions but what you need to win an election is your ground troops, like the UNC supporters who have answered their Prime Minister's battle call," she wrote.
It is yet another indicator of how much we have come to accept that "lofty notions" have no place in political life, yet it is this very absence that is the heart of the malfeasances we are bleating about with such indignance.
We are weary of remarking on the degeneration. It really seems to have sunk to the most shameful level money can buy. But we are also aware of the pattern it represents. Too many have lived long enough not to recognise the trend and where this is going.
Governments who begin to speak of being under siege, who are rallying their supporters with battle calls, who are unwittingly declaring great sectors of the population to be their enemies—we know what stage it is when that dimension enters the picture.
We know the first days, when chances are given all round, when the people are referred to with parental devotion, when praise is the order of the day. We know when entrenchment time comes, when deals start being made, when cats start getting fat, and murmurs begin. We know when people feel sidelined and begin to ask questions, shout in angry whispers, and lions start getting slaughtered.
We know when office holders have to buy their suits one or two sizes larger. When jewelry and vehicles get upsized, and we groan, because we were actually hoping this time it might not be the case.
We know when the parental voice changes to one that is defensive, then aggressive, than hectoring. We know when a few within begin uttering soft admonitions to their colleagues, because suddenly they are removed. We know when a word of criticism on one issue becomes a subject for rebuttal by ten different official sources. We know when behaviour takes a turn for the inexplicable worse, it comes from knowing days are numbered. We know that next comes a mad scramble to take as much as possible and to cover the trail as best as possible. We know. We know how it goes.